“With a pickleball paddle, of course, daddy!!” shouted my daughter, Lil Lilly, much to everyone’s amusement. In case you are just joining us, Lil Lilly’s answer was in response to my asking, “How do you hit a pickleball?”
After Wifey and I had undergone an expensive pickleball crash course with a professional trainer, I had decided that to save money, I would undertake the teaching and training of pickleball for my family, and myself. “Well, yes…but not exactly, sweetie. When it comes to hitting a pickleball, it is all about your grip of the paddle, the pace of the pickleball, hand-eye coordination, and angles at which you the pickleball.”
I responded good-humoredly but with some seriousness and proceeded to explain….
1. Hitting a pickleball: the basics
Pickleball is a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. So, if you have played any of these before, then hitting a pickleball shouldn’t be at all difficult. To hit a pickleball, yes, you basically must have the proper paddle, a spotter, and a ball.
With the paddle, you will be able to swing the ball back and forth, sending it back and forth. With the spotter, you will be able to keep the ball in play, preventing it from hitting the ground. You will also need a ball to hit.
However, if you’re new to pickleball or looking to improve your game, then learning how to hold/grip a pickleball paddle properly is a great way to start. In this regard, the best hold/grip to learn if you are going to be effectively hitting a pickleball is the Continental grip.
To hold your paddle in a Continental grip,
- Position your hand as if you want to shake hands with your paddle.
- Place the paddle head on its edge or at a 90-degree angle with the handle facing towards you – as if it is someone’s hand.
- With the paddle’s handle in this position, proceed to grip it by “shaking hands” or wrapping your fingers with or around the handle” so that the “V-shape” made by your thumb and index finger points straight back at you- that is the Continental grip.
With your paddle in the Continental grip position, you can now hit your pickleball with either your
- Forehand – (i.e., by swinging your Continentally-gripped paddle from right to left and hitting the pickleball). Or even serve. Professional players use forehand drives to hit the pickleball harder. If the ball is on the other side, you can switch hands to hit powerful forehand shots.
- Backhand – (i.e., swinging your Continentally-gripped paddle from left to right and hitting the pickleball that way).
With the Continental grip, you can also block, lob, and comfortably hit groundstrokes. However, before attempting any of these shots, ensure that your feet arrive in position first before attempting to swing. Avoid trying to move into position while hitting the ball.
Since your balance will be off, this will result in a badly hit shot. Instead, do as follows:
- Step back, to the side, or forward so that the ball is positioned slightly ahead of your body when you make contact.
- With your eye on the ball and the surface of your paddle, bring the two into contact.
- Strike the ball with a short by transferring your weight forward onto the balls of your feet. (This will help towards keeping the pickleball down and allow you to transfer plenty of energy into your fast or hard shot.)
Once you know the basics, it’s best to find a court near you and start practicing techniques to strategically hitting a pickleball.
2. Techniques to strategically hitting a pickleball
Below are some techniques from advanced pickleball players on how best to hit a pickleball strategically.
Hitting a Volley
A volley is when you hit a ball out of the air before it bounces. Depending on where you and your opponents are on the court, volleys can be hit either softly or with power. To hit a volley, follow the steps below.
- Ensure that the face of your paddle is slightly open.
- With your eyes on both the ball in the air and your open paddle face, make contact with the ball about one to two feet away from your body. (N.B. Contacting the ball too close to your chest will result in balls falling short of or into the net. While contacting the ball with the full extension of your arm, it will send the ball up into the air or off to the side.)
- Once you have made contact with the ball at the right angle, make a quick follow-through pushing motion as you strike it.
- Ensure you push the paddle face forward only a short distance, all the while maintaining the paddle face staying stable at the same angle.
Hitting a Drop shot
A drop shot involves arcing/curving the ball gently over your opponent’s net so that it falls near their feet. It is best used when your “opponent is standing up at the NVZ line” and is designed to make your opponent run towards the ball to defend. To hit a drop shot, ensure that
- the apex of the ball is on your side of the net so that “the ball is descending as it crosses the net into the non-volley zone of your opponents.”
- don’t hit the ball too hard and flat when performing a drop shot as it “will cause it to shoot high and past the kitchen, leaving you vulnerable to attacks.”
- Once you have hit the drop shot, with practice, you and/or your partner should run to the net, ready for a counterattack.
Hitting a Dink
A dink is “a softly-struck shot hit from the NVZ line that, like the drop, sails over the net in a gentle arc to land inside the non-volley zone.” The main difference between the two is “that a drop is executed from further back in the court and is used to advance to the net while the dink is used while up at the NVZ line primarily to set up an attack.” To hit a dink, try these steps.
- Using a continental grip, set the paddle from a position low to the ground upward towards the ball. This stroke must be “more of a pushing motion rather than a full-on swing such as what you would use for a groundstroke.”
- Ensure your paddle starts beside or very slightly behind you. This way, it has a very short backswing and ends with a very short follow-through.
- Make contact with the ball ahead of your body.
- Give your pickleball a little loft, so it descends after clearing the net. Doing so gives you “a bit of a margin of safety to clear the net while staying within the non-volley zone line.” Skimming the net with your dinks only means that your ball will end up going deeper than you intended.
Please note that to have success with all types of dink shots, you need “to develop a consistent and stable motion with few moving parts that allows you to control the ball’s speed and direction” always. Secondly, tall players should avoid bending over at the waist when about to dink. Instead, adopt a low body position with your knees bent for far more control over the shot.
This way, you also get a better visualization of the shot, as when you are low, you can better see what shots are high enough to attack or too low.
Hitting a pickleball hard
Hitting a ball hard requires practice and takes time to learn. One of the best ways to practice and learn how to hit hard is by hitting a ball against the wall. Doing so will ensure that you get the feel of each stroke and that you also place your feet correctly relative to where the ball lands.
When eventually on the court, depending on the pace of the ball, your strategy, and timing,
- Target your opponent’s hitting side shoulder.
- Areas low and to the side of your opponent so that they get jammed or have to reach low and away or have to reach to the forehand or backhand. Knowing how to hit a pickleball harder can help you win more points as you exploit your opposition’s weaknesses. When it comes to hitting a ball hard, it’s all about timing and knowing when and when not to hit a ball hard.
A heavy paddle to hit a pickleball harder
Alternatively, if hitting a pickleball harder is what you are after, then use a heavy pickleball paddle. A heavier pickleball paddle can generate more power with less effort. If you have a lightweight paddle and want a heavier one, you can add weight to your paddle using lead tape.
Hitting a pickleball as seen on TV
One of the best ways to learn how to hit a pickleball is to watch someone else or watch a YouTube video.